Japan-India can further a free and open Indo-Pacific

Japan-India can further a free and open Indo-Pacific

The Japan-India strategic partnership plays a pivotal role in countering China's dominance in the Indo- Pacific and ensuring the region remains open and inclusive.

Like many other countries, Japan is focused on recovering from Covid-19 and setting a course for economic revival. The government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has approved $2.2 trillion in stimulus spending, roughly 40 per cent of GDP, to shore up the economy and is engaging international institutions such as the G-7 and G-20 on strategies to restore global growth. Reinvesting in regional diplomacy will also prove critical in that context, and the Japan-India relationship, based on shared values and a commitment to economic and security cooperation, should play an important role in ensuring future stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.

Japan-India economic ties are robust. An economic partnership agreement signed in 2011 has yet to dramatically increase bilateral trade, but Japan's commitment to infrastructure development in India via official development assistance and investment in the Indian economy overall form a strong foundation for economic ties. A recent survey of Japanese manufacturers showed India is the number one target for investment over the next ten years driven mainly by expectations for market size. Covid-19 could affect these projections but there is clear interest in India as a growth engine and key link in regional supply chains. The prospects for jointly promoting regional economic cooperation are less certain. Japan was stung by India's withdrawal from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations last year, a lost opportunity for India to help shape rules and norms for trade liberalisation with China and Southeast Asian countries. Nonetheless, Japan will likely explore avenues for Indian participation in this process over the long-term. Bilateral security cooperation has also developed in recent years based on a joint security declaration that facilitated military exercises and dialogues on regional security issues. Japan also participates in the annual Malabar exercises with India and the United States in the realm of maritime security. The three governments have also instituted a trilateral dialogue aimed at facilitating cooperation across a range of policy challenges and reconstituted quadrilateral coordination with Australia focused on maintaining a rules-based order in the region. Symbolising the evolution in Japan-India ties, the two governments recently conducted the first “2+2” consultation among their foreign and defense ministers, who reaffirmed a commitment to furthering peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. Tokyo and Delhi are aligned with the United States and others in promoting that cause but confront a core strategic challenge: managing the rise of China.

Countering the dragon

Both Japan and India have close economic ties with China and would be hard pressed to isolate the world's second largest economy. But they are also threatened by Chinese coercion-India most recently along its land border and Japan in the East China Sea-and therefore have to balance multiple strategic objectives: investing in defense and regional security cooperation to dissuade China from assertive behavior while maintaining economic ties with Beijing and identifying potential areas for cooperation where possible. Their respective visions for the Indo-Pacific arguably emphasize bilateral coordination and regional networking not necessarily to contain China, but rather to develop consistent narratives for China on the rules and norms that should underpin future stability. Shaping China's choices is no easy task and could ultimately require reassurance that it can play a constructive role in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific provided it does not threaten its neighbours and destabilise the regional order. The Japan-India strategic partnership is an important means toward that end.
Nicholas Szechenyi is a senior fellow and deputy director of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
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